It's a major reversal from NBC's prior policy of withholding live events from the West Coast and airing many others on tape delay throughout all time zones. For years the network has angered fans across the country by refusing to air events until the start of its 8 p.m. coverage window. For the last summer Olympics in Beijing, this meant sitting on footage of Usain Bolt's record-breaking runs for as long as 15 hours.
NBC hasn't announced how it will air the events. A mix of streaming Internet coverage and use of NBC's cable networks is expected. The primetime telecast on NBC will likely feature the same mix of event coverage, human interest stories and Bob Costas.
The biggest winner in the deal are viewers on the West Coast who were routinely shut out of live coverage that was beamed to the East. NBC was instrumental in getting the IOC to contest swimming finals in the morning from Beijing so the races could be shown live in the United States. But while viewers in the East were watching Michael Phelps make Olympic history in real time, West Coast watchers were stuck waiting three hours for primetime coverage to begin. With the new policy, Olympic fans across the country will see everything as it happens if they so desire.
It's an especially important announcement for the upcoming Olympics because of the time difference between London and the United States. London is five hours ahead of New York, meaning that most marquee events like Phelps' and Bolt's races will take place in the late afternoon stateside. Without live streaming, all U.S. fans would have had to wait a minimum of three hours to see the competitions.
Welcome to the 21st century, NBC. It was a long time coming. Time will tell whether this has a positive effect on the network's bottom line. Primetime numbers may dip slightly for the main network but the benefit for NBC's cable channels, which will now be picked up by most cable companies, could make up the difference.
For fans, it's the best news possible. No more avoiding results all day. No more looking for pirated European feeds on the Internet. The Olympics will be live.
- Michael Phelps
- Usain Bolt